Friday, April 25, 2008

Digital nomadism and changing patterns of work


The Economist has a special series of articles in their April 10 issue about Mobility.  Rather than reviewing emerging technologies and business models, they examine the apparent impact of wireless networks on work-life activities, and conclude that it is leading to a new form of nomadic lifestyle:

"Humans have always migrated and travelled, without necessarily living nomadic lives. The nomadism now emerging is different from, and involves much more than, merely making journeys. The emerging class of digital nomads also wander, but they take virtually nothing with them; wherever they go, they can easily reach people and information.

Digital nomadism will liberate ever more knowledge workers from the cubicle prisons of Dilbert cartoons. But the old tyranny of place could become a new tyranny of time, as nomads who are “always on” all too often end up—mentally—anywhere but here (wherever here may be). As for friends and family, permanent mobile connectivity could have the same effect as nomadism: it might bring you much closer to family and friends, but it may make it harder to bring in outsiders.  Politically, nomadism promises the heaven of new freedom, but it also threatens the hell of constant surveillance by the tribe."

I'm still thinking about how true this is of my own life, and about the implications for how I think about what I will do in the future.

On the one hand, I can't imagine yet how I would do collaborative work as effectively if I had to depend on Blackberry's.  The rich ideas on the whiteboard, above, resulted from a few people standing around writing and erasing, arguing and 'aha-ing, until a complete plan took shape.  It was social / emotional more than it is process / rational.  In contrast, I struggled to reach agreement on a model structure with a health economist in Lausanne yesterday.  I drew finger pictures in front of the telephone receiver, futilely trying to communicate visual diagrams: we shot e-mail drawings back and forth while we talked, but we both had to withdraw to sort our ideas separately in the end.

At the same time, it is true that my network and, indeed, my closest colleagues and friendships, now extend over a vast geography.  I feel like I do have a close and rich interactions with them that I never had in the days of mailed letters and occasional telephone calls.  The wireless and network technologies enable new shared, social spaces that give immediate and visual ability to share experiences, thoughts, and plans.

It makes me think that perhaps I haven't gone far enough:  that I am still trying to live with one foot in traditional work-life styles and another tentatively feeling into the future.

'Thoughts I want to think about and return to...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Back from Geneva

DSC06597' Back from a short trip down to Geneva to pitch our new idea to some interventional cardiologists at the University Hospital. The weather was terrible: low clouds, blowing cold, spitting rain.  But the city must be beautiful in the summer between the lake and the mountains. I'll need to plan a trip back when spring settles.

My RSS aggregator, NetVibes, was down for a scheduled upgrade when I returned.  The four-hour outage turned into three days, so there wasn't much to do  to catch up with other people's blogs except to wait.  It was nice to have access back this morning, and to catch up with everyone's thoughts and stories over coffee.  It's much better than wrestling with the morning newspaper.

KLM's in-flight magazine had a wonderful photo essay by Anton Corbijn featuring pictures of rock and roll musicians.image  I was a disk jockey, then program director, at WRVU back in the 70's, so a lot of the groups and people that he highlighted were familiar to me.  I was really struck by two of the pictures:  the first was one that he made of U2, Fathers and Sons.  It's remarkable for having each band imagemember alongside his parent: the resemblances and mannerisms are worth a close look.  The second was a casual picture of Janice Joplin by Jim Marshall: it really is full of life yet captures the easy attitude that would lead to her tragedy.

My project engineers finished work on our prototype device this week, so we went out to the de Bourgondier Restaurant in Wehl to celebrate.  This is a "Dutch Buffet", one price gives access to a wide array of typical Netherlands cold hors d'ouvres, cooked items, soups, and desserts.  It was a good chance to explore a variety of foods, not all great, but I did make some discoveries that I really liked.  It's got an "English Pub" sort of atmosphere, close, dark, antique, and warm, and made for a fun evening together.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Springtime comes to Keukenhof

The temperatures hit 17, the sunshine hit my bedroom window, and I hit the street. Spring had finally arrived in the Netherlands. No more moping about the apartment watching it rain; no more dark clouds at work. It was time for the spring tulips!

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And there is noplace better than the Keukenhof gardens. Last year, on the last weekend that they were open in May, everything was dead or bare. This year, April should be the height of the season, but timing is still an elusive thing. Many tulips were almost (but not quite) out, and some of the shrubs were still hibernating. But the overall effect is spectacular: literal rivers of color winding between geometric arrangements of every spring flower imaginable. There were wonderful sculpture gardens, long paths with color receding into the distance, and wonderful reflecting pools that invited picnic pauses.

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The Dutch were out in force, still bundled against the cold, but the grounds are large enough that things seldom felt crowded. It was Chinese-Dutch Olympic Friendship Day (or something close to it), so there were a lot of Asian visitors posing and taking pictures everywhere (although I've seen spring displays in Tokyo rival the colors here).

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I went looking for the tulip fields along N208 all the way up to Haarlem, but didn't find anything. I turned back south along N206, and was rewarded with multicolored fields all the way to Leiden. It really does look like broad paintbrush strokes across the fields, and worth getting a few hundred meters off onto the side roads to really see the colors close up.

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